We are dismayed by the news that the FBI is launching an investigation into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin on May 11. Israeli officials confirmed media reports on Monday that the US Justice Department had recently informed Israel’s Justice Ministry of the move, and they also voiced their firm opposition to the probe.
Israel conducted several thorough investigations into the circumstances of Abu Akleh’s killing, with the IDF concluding in September that she was most likely killed in “unintentional fire” from an Israeli soldier who did not realize she was a journalist. The US even participated in one of the investigations, including examining the bullet that the Palestinians said was the fatal one. The results of all the investigations were shared with the US, and particularly with the State Department.
Why then does the US administration believe that a new FBI investigation is necessary? As Defense Minister Benny Gantz succinctly said in a statement, the FBI probe is a grave error and there is no reason for Israel to cooperate with its investigation, even though it has nothing to hide.
“The decision taken by the US Justice Department to conduct an investigation into the tragic passing of Shireen Abu Akleh is a mistake,” Gantz said. “The IDF has conducted a professional, independent investigation, which was presented to American officials with whom the case details were shared. I have delivered a message to US representatives that we stand by the IDF’s soldiers, and that we will not cooperate with an external investigation.”
Why does it matter?
Why does all this matter? First, a reminder: The 51-year-old senior correspondent for Al Jazeera, who was wearing a bulletproof vest marked “Press” and a helmet, was shot dead during clashes between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen that broke out after soldiers raided the Jenin refugee camp as part of a crackdown during a wave of terror.
The Palestinian Authority, which refused to conduct a joint investigation with Israel, immediately accused the IDF of intentionally targeting her. Based on eyewitness accounts, and visual and audio evidence, independent probes by several news organizations – including The Washington Post and The New York Times – found it was likely that an IDF soldier fired the fatal shot. The US administration said in early July that Abu Akleh was likely killed by unintentional Israeli fire, but a ballistics test of the bullet fragment removed from her body was “inconclusive.” A probe conducted by the UN Human Rights Council came to a similar conclusion.
It is hard to believe that the FBI will reach another conclusion. However, its investigation – coming as Israel transitions between the outgoing government led by Yair Lapid and a new government expected to be led by Benjamin Netanyahu – is a slap in the face for Jerusalem.
How does it affect Jerusalem?
For one thing, it could lead to unnecessary tensions between the Biden administration and the new Israeli government. More importantly, though, is that it could lead to an American request to investigate the soldiers involved in the Jenin operation, a request Israel could not accept.
Why are US officials refusing to say what prompted the new FBI investigation? The only public statement from Washington about the investigation came from the White House National Security Council spokesperson. “Our thoughts remain with the Abu Akleh family as they grieve this tremendous loss,” the spokesperson said. “Not only was Shireen an American citizen, but she was also a fearless reporter whose journalism and pursuit of truth earned her the respect of audiences around the world.”
Perhaps the administration has come under increasing pressure from Abu Akleh’s family – and its own lawmakers – to mount an independent FBI probe. We know that more than 20 Democratic senators signed a letter calling for such a probe, with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) saying that “this is an overdue but necessary and important step in the pursuit of justice and accountability in the shooting death of American citizen and journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh.”
Although it is understandable that the FBI investigates the tragic killing of an American citizen abroad, such investigations are not the norm when it comes to a close US ally such as Israel, which Washington knows respects the rule of law and has an independent, reliable judicial system. This is not how friends treat friends, and we strongly urge our American allies to reconsider their decision.